A Little ‘splaining For The Arts Community

It’s been a while since I committed professional suicide. I’m overdue. I say that because I am a professional actor by all definitions. I’ve been in motion pictures (that’s me in the background, actually got paid once…,) television commercials, radio commercials, stage productions, personal performances, voice over on industrials (training films, etc., ) and had to sign a SAG/AFTRA waiver once upon a time.

Some might laugh at that list, but here’s the reality: I’ve managed to pay my mortgage off 14 years early by virtue of the money I’ve made pretending to be someone else. Mind you, credit card fraud can do the same thing, but I actually make enough acting every year to make modest car payments and house payments (if I had either…) That qualifies me as a professional actor. Santa, just so you know, is an acting job in many ways. Because if you stink at it, the next performance will be in your kid’s living room, not at the lens end of a camera.

How will this blog be professional suicide? Glad you asked: some of my contacts in the industry are … rabid. That’s the word. They are social justice warriors who will deny me work because of my thoughts on this topic. These folks, sadly, will ignore the fact that I do a decent job for their agency and keep my mouth shut on set. Instead, they’ll peg me as a conservative Christian supporter of Donald Trump, and immediately know that I’m in charge of the new camps where gay people, all immigrants (legal and illegal,) and people any less white than The Donald will be interned and then paid less than “us.”

So I imagine. Mind you, this is not everyone in the community of arts. Lots of fine, open-minded people that I’ve worked with for years. They will continue to offer/not offer me roles based on my abilities to perform, my appearance (I make a very unconvincing six-year-old girl,) and my availability. I cherish them, regardless of their political views, sexual orientation, color, or disabled parking sticker. They treat me well, and have engaged in a professional relationship that I value.

Having said that, there are a few who will not let it go, and that is unfortunate. I’d name names, but it’s better to be on the decent and prudent side in the event that I’m wrong. After all, its’ hard to judge a book by its cover, or an actor by their Facebook rants.

Let me tell you what it’s come down to for me: I’ve watched the war in the arts community over the weekend regarding the cast of the Broadway play Hamilton. (No link, you’ll see why soon.) I am saddened that performance, and art, are being overshadowed by the need to lecture, hector, and push an agenda from the stage. To quote a great wit, “Shut up, and sing.”

To summarize what happened, Vice-President Elect Pence was in the audience. He was booed by the audience. Following the performance, one of the main characters gave an address to the audience regarding the new administration. Some have said that Pence was already gone. Doesn’t matter to me. The “fourth wall” was broken, and that’s unacceptable in my opinion. (Unless you’re Mel Brooks. He can get away with it…)

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Whether or not Mike Pence was recently elected to high office, or if he was a plumber whom the characters knew because he’d flooded the dressing rooms by accident, it was wrong to call him out and lecture him (absent or not) in the fashion the cast did. Some have defended the actors, saying the producer/director put them up to it – horsefeathers. The man paid for a ticket to a performance and was entitled to enjoy his evening. End of story.

The excuse of the progressive left is that: Pence is in a unique status and thus has no private life due to his potentially great power and influence; he is fair game to be lectured to, excoriated, exposed, ridiculed, or praised on any given night he his in public; the speech given by the cast member was polite; the actor is an HIV positive man and thus entitled; he’s black and thus entitled; the cast is part of the LGBTQ community; the arts are a special place for a social voice; (Tired of this crapola yet?) Pence should have known that this might happen, and was asking for it; this wasn’t a performance of Arsenic & Old Lace (that’s my favorite one thus far) and so his social consciousness was in need of raising if the opportunity presented itself… Blah. Blah. Blah.

Seriously? I don’t remember telling any of my agents that I have chronic migraines (mercifully few, lately) or kidney stones. I also didn’t mention my disabled veteran status, nor the fact that my hearing is fading and I’m pretty close to deaf in one ear. Nope. I foolishly expect to be hired because I look/sound like what the casting director had in mind, and I did a good audition. Heck, had I known that being ill with a horrible disease would get me a role, or at least a second audition, I would have capitalized on my Dengue fever a few years back. That should have scored me network television role at a minimum of three episodes, speaking character. Nowhere in my understanding of acting is there a codicil that you can be rude to your guests because of your age, illness, disability, or politics.

We have, unfortunately, lost almost any trace of civility in political discussion of late. I am blessed in that I share my life with a bunch of really outstanding people who are so far left that they might be Wobblies in another era. Yet we are all friends, congenial, and have fascinating discussions. Most of those discussions highlight how much we have in common versus our differences. It is possible to be in the same room with someone else and let them alone. Including the theater.

I perform, most of the time, wearing a red suit. Can you imagine what the result would be if I did anything but love, and pray for, the children that come to me? I may dislike their parent’s attire, their political opinions (often worn on their sleeves) or their choice of pets, but how is it right to inflict that on them when I’m being retained to entertain? I don’t think this need apply just to me, but to the theater in general.

If I go to a comedy club and the comic is known to hate white people, I’d kind of figure I was going to get a performance I won’t enjoy. Same thing with Bruce Springsteen. The dude can rock, I enjoy his songs, but he’s a total pain in the butt with the lectures. Sorry, I won’t pony up money for that silliness.

But I do attend events where I’m not the majority. I attend events with different outlooks politically. I attend events with ethnic groups that may never understand me, nor I them. But I go into those events knowing I take risks to my comfort with my purchase of a ticket. I do it because I might find something I truly enjoy, or expand my horizons. You don’t get to speak a couple of languages, do manual labor, and computer science without stretching some personal boundaries.

But in a Broadway theater? I refuse to buy the argument that it was “the actor’s safe space” and they were entitled to speak out once it was violated. I think they owe Mr. Pence an apology. And a refund. Same for the rest of the audience, whether or not they agreed.

You see, they paid to see the play. Not the demagoguery that followed.

If you, as a performer, choose to pursue social justice over your craft, you will find yourself restricted to audiences that think like you. You will never get to teach with an outstanding performance. You will never bring new material to the stage that deserves an audience that could grow from the performance. You will be consigned to the open mike night at the local coffee shop, not swaying millions of potential advocates with your classy way of presenting the message. I present as argument number one a certain Sir Sidney Poitier.

Come see me as Santa this year. I promise not to lecture you. Even if I despise you on a personal level. That, my fellow artists, is why it’s called a profession: you take the customer’s money and deliver a product as requested. Save the rest for the local coffee house or bar after the performance.

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